This New American Life
I write this in a booth waiting for my current delivery order to be prepared in an empty restaurant that ten years ago would have been crowded. The music is a soft bossa nova and the kitchen while busy is careful to avoid clangs. The decor is standard a medium brown stain colors the wood and the carpet is green and clean. A mother and her retired son are the only other customers. She is dancing while waiting for the spring rolls to arrive. The owner hands me a thai tea on the house while I wait. I can’t help but worry for the fate of America. I can’t help but wonder where do we go from here.
The internet has redefined what and why we eat. It’s less about what we like and having haunts we return to but posting from the current trends to be considered a cool kid. Even those who do not post on social media still Google and Yelp their choices based on the impression that the best rated by those apps have more value experience wise for their dollars. The hive mind that is social media causes attention inequality and narrows culture especially food culture.
Speaking of the Hive Mind. What do we talk about when we say we shouldn’t give someone a platform. As in the current uproar over Megyn Kelly interviewing Alex Jones, a man who has been paid to spew filth since my childhood. He long ago built his alternative media platform and give a place for wayward views. He helped Trump win without a doubt and his org Infowars will have white house press credentials. He doesn’t need an interview on NBC but NBC and those who oppose his views do need these kinds of interviews. Darkness cannot be allowed to fester. Pre-internet denying mainstream outlets was a good way to slow repulsive thought but now mainstream media is one if the last shared spaces in American life and is more effective as a means of exposing.
The tendency of the internet to drive conformity from food and fashion trends to preventing public discourse is disconcerting to say the least. Humanity’s story is one driven by innovation through diversity not just the kind on a college application check box. How much have we lost? What will it take next?
It has been a struggle to post this last week. To find a purpose in doing so. In a world so determined to end itself, I feel attempting to stop the suicide to be a grain of sand caught in the oceanic drift.
On the right, a crowd whose empathy ends with their outer dermal layer. On the left, a crowd who see empathy as an end or rather see no further than feeling.
AHCA is a bad bill. It hasn’t been scored by the CBO and as such there is no analysis what it will do. It will cause people to lose coverage and thats enough for it to not live up to the GOP promise. They forgot the dead can’t vote.
P.C. Culture is a failed solution to real problems in society. After 27 years of academic witch hunts, it fractured the Dems coalition. Pushing former leftists into the Alt-Right. Kids still get gunned down by cops for no reason everyday.
The Alt-Right a vague coalition of reactionaries to whom 1950 is still hell. They are the product of the bubbles we built. Rejected by all, they have come to raze and pillage and rape. Armored in our beloved Irony, they are immune to shame and guilt. They are the priests and flocks of whataboutism and the ultimate product of the internet. They are something new. They wish to supplant democracy and install a CEO, one without a board to answer to.
Those of us outside their circle must decide if we wish to live in a society that self-governs or to bow. That decision must begin with real bipartisanship from both sides. ACA was always more conservative in its solution than progressive. The GOP could repair it and show alternative to single payer healthcare. Progressivism needs to promote concrete quantifiable solutions and worry less about when an ally trips. Those would be baby steps.
Art doesn’t function as a window and politics isn’t a football game. We can either accept the world and save democracy or drown in our own shit.
There is a very American fear I used to have. It’s embarrassingly selfish and naive to admit, but I always had the creeping suspicion that I would miss my generational moment. Decade by decade, there seem to be cultural hubs in America, where the groundswell of the next cultural wave begins, to roll out across the country, until another starts to build somewhere else.
I never really knew how famous authors, directors, and public intellectuals seemed to be present in these moments. What happened to those who spent the late fifties in Portland instead of New York? Or the sixties in St. Louis instead of San Francisco?
Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older, but I don’t really have that fear anymore. I was re-reading “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy last night (written off by a lot of fans as “movie fodder”, which I think is a shame because it is actually very experimental compared to his work both before and after).
In it the protagonist, Sheriff Bell, has small first person passages scattered throughout the book, reflecting on the state of the world he lives in. One quote in particular has stuck with me, and I’ve started to believe it’s connected to that old fear:
“Young people anymore they seem to have a hard time growin up. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just that you don’t grow up any faster than you have to.” (pg. 159)
I think this is especially applicable with my generation, “the millennials.” It’s hard to interact with any of them and not feel like we live in a nation of Peter Pans. As if a stubborn refusal to grow up will somehow keep looming, ice-age sized economic problems at bay. Part of the difficulty in any kind of massive movement based on these problems is that the young of the falling middle class are still able to leech off of those who have profited from it in the past. Young men and women can still lean on ever weakening family bonds for financial support.
And it’s okay right now. It seems like there is a lot of individual freedom- people can make money streaming video games, or blogging from vans, or go to grad school. But a decade from now, the national anxiety will really reach a fever pitch.
There will be a large movement, and I think it will spring from the millennial generation, when it finally sets in that things will not get better. When opportunities for job security turn out not to exist. When healthcare becomes an issue as we age. When the generation after us comes into the workforce, and we realize that there is no upward mobility anymore. The little projects and Netflix shows and cultural wars we busy ourselves will, with harsh suddenty, not matter.
I’ve started to believe that our reaction to that fact will be our lasting legacy- our cultural movement. It isn’t that we don’t have a place at the table: it’s that we are lead into a room where others are wildly hacking at the table so they can get a piece, and even as we get our hands on an axe or hammer, the top is gone, the legs are long pulled away, and all thats left are screws and dust and the echoes of labored breathing, cursing us for fools for being late to the party.
Louis Hyman wrote an op-ed against saving America’s Main Street. Walmart is more efficient. Their low prices just by virtue of bulk buying power. He not only ignores their lower wages and reliance on part time to avoid benefits. His future is either as a remote receptionist probably part time working at minimum wage for a metropolitan office or hustling crafts online. A job is a job but neither is a secure future. The advantage of a remote receptionist is the business can avoid the salary requirements of a city resident while maintainig an office in the right address. The second is the digital hustle. I think more people digital hustle the digital hustle than any other good. Either way, they still serve the same urban elite masters.
The notion of replacing modern manufacturing with the virtual bazaar has become a new Horatio Algers myth. That everyone’s merit will shine a beacon of success if they spend enough time on the internet. Society has long assumed talent is cream but skill or even being skilled at promoting one’s skill is no guarantee. A lottery at best, putting all your eggs into the whims of the internet is dangerous. Hyman’s woods craftsmen would better talking to the shop owners of main street Echo Park and Bushwick who could showcase his wares to the well off audience, he would be stalking online. We’ve all been hawked snake oil from those on the other side of the rainbow. Does that mean that one shouldn’t try or internet infrastructure expanded? No, it means there are no small fixes for the end of an economic age.
Hyman’s solution flaw like most progressive solutions is based on people other than the author making changes as the author has achieved cultural nirvana. I don’t think he understands main street as the average citizen does only has it is seen in liberal straw man scenarios. “It’s locally owned shops selling products to hardworking townspeople. It’s neighbors with dependable blue-collar jobs in auto plants and coal mines. It’s a feeling of community and of having control over your life.” The last sentence is true but the rest is disconnected. Would you rather enrich a spoiled heir or help your underwater neighbor? That’s the real choice between chain and local. Would you rather wealth stay in the region or go to tax breaks for out of state and increasingly country movie stars? How many years can you be told it will trickle down before you don’t believe?
Main street isn’t just about shops. It is about having safe public spaces to congregate. A place a child can meet with friends without fear of being offered drugs or harmed into silence over witnessing crime. It is a place children want to return to after college and a way to stem brain drain. It isn’t trying to make Celebration, USA in every town or bringing back the 50’s.
My great grandmother had to drown her cat as a child because of the depression. Her son had a dog that died of old age and his daughter paid 10k to save her dog from cancer. I’m pet free to avoid the fate of door #1. The contract of the New Deal is broken and Americans want to re-negotiate. 80 years ago, we were given economic freedom. Defending the system that stole it will only further our slide back to serfdom. We need futures not dependent on the fads of the wealthy. Coal might be dead but America isn’t.
We are not the Nation that crushed the horrors of Germany anymore. We aren’t the nation that build with our hands the largest roadway system in the world (at the time). We aren’t the Nation that illuminated the alternative to communism. We just live in it’s shadow.
We chose to be a smaller nation long before Trump announced his candidacy. The American Century is defined by our commitment to our values and holding our partners abroad to the same high standard. Instead we lowered our expectations for ourselves and ignored the violations for luxury. We all know how the iPhone gets made and that sausage pales in comparison. Yet when we discuss the impact of technology we only ask if the screen hurts our own eyes and communities. The American Century was never measured by trade profits, how many census checkboxes our elected officials can fill, or our ability to kill: it was how we embraced our better angels.
We left the information age and entered the post information age I believe with the widespread adoption of the internet. The experts who once maintained knowledge have seceded that role to servers. Information no longer is knowledge in the sense that it can be believed as true. It also comes through as too much information. History has split into a billion threads and we as a nation are left adrift. We don’t teach who we are anymore. My education consisted of a litany of our sins and ways to repent for the creation of the greatest country/empire the world has been blessed with. The wonder that is America and its founding seems to have become unfashionable for the cosmopolitan teachers filling the classrooms. There isn’t a national narrative or wasn’t until Trump appeared on the Horizon. You can disagree with the content but you can’t argue it isn’t a single thread. The left jumps trying to recognize each individual as civilization, the trees over forest.
An example is the recent op-ed by Senator Merkley (D-Oregon) that Democrats should force the nuclear option over Gorsuch because “This is certainly a possibility, since the Republicans have already shown such disregard for Senate tradition and the integrity of the Supreme Court”. This statement ignores it was the Democrats who first went nuclear. One could counter Republican obstructionism forced their hands. That narrative was worn out in 2011. For as big of a tent the Democrats claim to represent, they seem to have a hard time communicating. Instead they turn to condescension when denied. They don’t reach out to those who question and even if they are the future as they claim. Their worldview isn’t any more free than Trump’s. We can vehemently disagree without silencing. When violent protests counter a speaking engagement and people justify preventing words the American Spirit is lost. We must defend the rights of those who make our blood boil. There is no wavering in that ideal. There are no self expression values without that social contract.
To rebuild from the carnage, we need trust. That requires a single narrative that contains all voices.
The False Dimitris, Time of Troubles, Making the Apolitical Political